Einstein Creates App to Treat Heart Pump Patients
More and more patients with advanced heart failure are surviving with the help of a mechanical heart pump called a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD). These patients don’t have a natural pulse. Their blood pressure isn’t measured the usual way. Imagine, then, how challenging it is to provide medical treatment to a VAD patient if you’re unfamiliar with the device.
A team from Einstein Healthcare Network has created a mobile app to solve that problem. It will enable medical practitioners who see VAD patients infrequently – such as first responders, emergency room clinicians, primary care practitioners and others – to immediately assess whether the VAD is working and access help if it isn’t.
The VAD STAT app, the first of its kind in the nation, was created by Tim Robbins, coordinator of the VAD program at Einstein, and Lisa Tysen, web developer in the Department of Marketing and Public Relations. About 100 Einstein practitioners are testing the app before it’s officially licensed.
“We wanted to create a tool that’s user-friendly for practitioners who see a VAD patient rarely,” Robbins said. He noted that the number of patients with VADs is small but growing. Robbins estimated that the number of VAD patients in the Philadelphia area increased from 100 to 500 in a relatively short time. Nationally, the number went from 726 in 2003 to 3,855 in 2014, more than a fivefold increase.
The implanted pumps originally were meant to be an interim measure for patients waiting for a heart transplant. But organs are rare, and VADS are increasingly being used as a long-term treatment for patients who aren’t good candidates for transplant. When the patient seeks treatment for an unrelated medical issue – for an infection, for instance, or high blood pressure, or to get a flu vaccine – the practitioner first needs to make certain the VAD is working correctly.
The app’s Rapid Assessment Tool allows clinicians to check the status of a patient’s VAD device in just a few minutes. If the tool detects an abnormality with the device, it drives the user to quickly get in contact with the VAD team.
Beth Hurwitz, a clinical nurse specialist in the Emergency Department of Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, said the app “is fantastic.” She’s among the 500 Einstein practitioners who have been, or will be, trained in the use of the device.
“Everybody has a smart phone in their pocket these days, and (the app) literally walks you through step by step and tells you what to do,” Hurwitz said. About eight to ten VAD patients are seen in the ED a month, she said, but with such a big staff, a particular nurse might not see one for an indefinite period.
Robbins sits on the International Best Practices Committee for VAD Coordinators, which is developing a similar app. At the moment, though, Einstein’s is “the first clinically relevant app for VAD patients in the nation,” he said.